How Nigeria loomed large in Saudi Arabia’s Minerals Forum

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    By Segun Tomori

    The third edition of Saudi Arabia’s Future Minerals Forum, FMF, has come and gone but what remains to be told is the story of Nigeria’s prominence in the comity of over 80 nations that graced the conference.

    The FMF, conceptualized to create resilient and responsible mineral value chains in Africa, Western and Central Asia has become the foremost gathering of countries endowed with solid minerals and those interested in harnessing the resources or investing in its value chain.

    Hitherto, Nigeria had paid scant regard to her mineral resources, largely because of over-dependence on oil, but all of that changed with the advent of President Bola Tinubu’s administration. Eager to diversify the economy and maximize the immense potentials of the sector, President Tinubu drafted one of his most trusted lieutenants, Dr. Dele Alake to superintend over the newly created Solid Minerals Development Ministry, an offshoot of the former Mines and Steel Ministry.

    Dr. Alake, in his capacity as Nigeria’s Solid Minerals helmsman, led the Nigerian delegation to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the minerals conference that held from 9th to 11th January, 2024. From our first day of arrival, we already had the inkling of how hectic the schedule would be.

    The parley with Saudi Arabian Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources, Bandar AlKhorayef, and his entourage was the first port of call.

    Waxing lyrical as he is wont to do, Alake affirmed that Nigeria under President Tinubu is now taking the development of solid minerals very seriously, reeling out on-going reforms that will bequeath an efficient governance structure, tackle impediments to ease of doing business and address insecurity in mining areas.

    He further made a case for investments and partnership with Saudi Arabia in areas of exploration, extraction and the whole gamut of the mining sector value chain whilst assuring his guest that the policy of full repatriation of profits to home countries and tax waivers on imported equipment are some of the incentives put in place by President Tinubu to attract investors.

    It was an elated AlKhorayef that welcomed Nigeria’s renewed interest in solid minerals. Acknowledging that the world is moving away from fossil fuels to cleaner energy, of which critical minerals will play a major role, he aligned with Alake’s submission that mutually beneficial partnerships will suffice to advance the economic interest of both countries.

    Consequently, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia agreed to set up a joint technical committee to work out modalities for collaboration.
    Unlike other conferences where Nigeria and most African countries are consigned to less prominent panel sessions or fireside chats, Nigeria, alongside Pakistan, United Kingdom and some private sector juggernauts headlined the opening session of the Future Minerals Forum, FMF.

    Joining Dr. Alake on the panel were Pakistani Minister of Energy, HE Muhammed Ali; United Kingdom Minister of State for Industry and Economy, HE Nosrat Ghani; Chairman, Anglo American, Stuart Chambers amongst others.

    Speaking on the topic, “Why the Super Region? Should the Super Region Have its Own Critical Minerals Strategy”? Alake held the audience spellbound as he firmly declared that the concept of inclusivity in a super region should entail a paradigm shift to local value addition, as against the age-long practice of merely carting away raw materials from Africa.

    “For us in Nigeria and most of Africa, the idea of a super region is quite significant in order to harness the mosaic, distinctive mineral resources that are within the confines of the super regions and consequently achieve a sustainable energy mix for the world. In Nigeria, we have prioritized the development of our critical minerals and rare earth metals, so the idea of inclusivity in a super region entails collaborative efforts, not only in the area of investments but technology transfer, knowledge sharing, and more importantly, for us in Africa, local value addition,” the Minister asserted.

    The superlative performance of Nigeria didn’t go unnoticed as Alake was soon trailed by a deluge of international media organizations for an interview. Initially, we had four on our list – CNN, Saudi TV, Argaam, and CNBC, but we ended up doing a whooping seven, including the renowned London Economist and Bloomberg.

    Everywhere we turned to, dignitaries stood in awe of Dr. Alake, as they literarily fell upon themselves to take pictures or commend his presentation at the opening session.

    When the African Ministers of Solid Minerals/ Mineral resources needed a rallying point to forge a common front, they approached Nigeria to lead the way.

    Alongside his Ugandan counterpart, Hon. Dr. Peter Lokeris, Dr. Alake led the African delegation comprising nine countries into series of meetings and the resolve was unanimous – Africa will no longer be given the shorter end of the stick, value addition should take the center-stage of inclusivity in the super region! Alake thereafter offered to host the African Ministers in Nigeria to consolidate on the agreement and forge a way forward for the development of Africa through harnessing its abundant mineral resources.

    Aside from engagements with the Saudi political establishment, mining sector players from across the world also parleyed the Minister and expressed their interest in Nigeria’s mining sector. Monaco’s Jean Boulle Group, led by its Chairman, Jean-Raymond Boulle, informed the Minister of an impending visit to Nigeria, asserting his firm’s readiness to expand its operations to Nigeria’s mining value chain.

    Saudi royal family was not left out as HE Prince Fahad Al Saud alongside the CEO of their family office, Constandinos Felder also met Alake with the aim remaining the same – interest in Nigeria’s critical minerals and willingness to bring massive investments into the country.

    From the reception accorded Nigeria at the just concluded FMF, we can deduce that the world is ready for Nigeria. The onus now falls on us to put our house in order.

    Thankfully, the 7-point agenda of the Minister is well on course. Just a few days ago, President Tinubu alluded to the establishment of the solid minerals police – an integral part of the 7-point agenda, which is christened “Mines Police”, during a meeting with State Governors. Also, plans for the establishment of the Nigerian Mining Corporation, NMC, that will bequeath an efficient governance structure for the mining sector are well on course.

    2024 will be an interesting year for the renaissance of Nigeria’s mining sector. The coming weeks and months promise to be action-packed in that regard, with Dr. Alake leading the way. May Nigeria succeed!

    Segun Tomori, is the Special Assistant on Media to the Honourable Minister of Solid Minerals Development.